Buenos Aires: Millions took to the streets of Buenos Aires on Tuesday to try to get a glimpse of Lionel Messi and the national football team that won the World Cup as they paraded through the capital in a historic display of popular support.
Messi and his teammates from the Argentina national team traveled on an open-top bus waving at jubilant fans on the sides of the highway heading to Buenos Aires from their training ground on the outskirts of the city. The team is inching its way through the crowd to try to reach downtown.
Clarin newspaper estimated that four million Argentines are in the streets taking part in the celebration which is complicating the planned route of the team bus. Wild scenes broadcast on local TV show people filling highway bridges, climbing light posts and vehicles while singing and waving shirts and flags in the football-crazed nation of 46 million.
Instead, Messi, coach Lionel Scaloni and midfielder Rodrigo De Paul took the World Cup trophy with them for a helicopter ride over the main parade sites, including the Obelisk, police said.
Messi and winger Angel Di Maria then took a private plane to their hometown of Rosario, alongside forward Paulo Dybala.
As Messi and Di Maria boarded another helicopter to take them to the private neighborhood where they own homes, Dybala continued on to his hometown of Cordoba, a photographer said.
The celebration provides a much-needed distraction for Argentines who are struggling with an economic crisis of high inflation, a weakening currency and tight capital controls. President Alberto Fernandez decreed a national holiday on Tuesday so that citizens could attend the parade.
Argentina beat France on penalties on Sunday to win its third World Cup title, the first one in 36 years.
Fan gloom as parade ends abruptly
Vast crowds of ecstatic fans cheered on their heroes along every meter of the planned 30-kilometer parade route from a Buenos Aires suburb to the center of the capital - but that made for interminably slow progress.
The bus had crawled along for almost five hours as the throng celebrated the team's thrilling penalty shoot-out victory over France in the World Cup final, before the decision was made to trade the bus for a chopper.
"It was impossible to continue on the ground due to the explosion of popular joy," presidential spokeswoman Gabriela Cerruti said on Twitter.
It meant that many fans, including the largest congregation at the iconic Obelisk monument in central Buenos Aires that has for decades been the epicenter of sporting celebrations, did not get to see their idols in the flesh.
"I'm a little bit sad that we weren't able to see them," said Marta Acosta, 35, who traveled into town from a southern suburb at 5:00 am.
Claudio Tapia, president of the Argentine Football Association (AFA), blamed police for the decision to abandon the victory parade.
"They are not allowing us to go and greet all the people at the Obelisk," said Tapia on Twitter.
"The same security agencies that escorted us are not allowing us to continue. Thousands of apologies in the name of all the champion players. It's a shame."
Hordes of revellers wearing the national team's blue and white replica shirts and draped in flags sang, danced and set off fireworks throughout the day, with many camping out all night to secure spots along the parade route.
But three hours into the procession, the bus had barely covered a third of the planned path.
Eventually, the vehicle was ditched.
Back in Buenos Aires, many continued to celebrate but for some fans, the short-circuiting of the party was inevitable.
"Only someone who does not know what football means to the Argentine people could think this was not a possibility," Roman Garcia, 38, told AFP.
An estimated five to six million people had lined the parade route, a government source said.
Television images showed two men trying to jump from a bridge onto the players' bus. One succeeded but the other missed and fell into a crowd of people.
As the evening wore on, minor clashes broke out between fans - some clearly inebriated - and police who moved to evict a small group that had forced its way into the area around the Obelisk, AFP reporters witnessed.
Stones were thrown and rubber bullets were fired. The TN network said 13 people were arrested and eight officers injured in the melee.
Authorities did not immediately confirm those figures. But city officials earlier said 16 people had been hospitalised throughout the day.
After arriving home from Qatar in the early hours of the morning, the players spent a short time resting at the Argentine Football Association training complex in the Ezeiza suburb of the capital.
Tuesday had been declared a public holiday for the celebrations.
"This trophy that we won is also for all those that did not manage to win it in previous World Cups we played, such as Brazil 2014," Messi said on social media, referring to the team that lost 1-0 to Germany in the title match eight years ago.